RU Puppet Artist Hopes to Inspire Future Puppeteers to Show Their Creativity

The logo for RU Puppet Artists. The club hopes to be recognized as an official club soon - Photo courtesy of Tyler "TJ" Jacobs.

Tyler “TJ” Jacobs has personally explored puppetry for three years but in his own words, “it’s been overdrive the past year.”

A junior honors theater major with concentrations in acting, directing, musical theater and theater education, Jacobs created RU Puppet Artists with the goal of promoting, exploring and cultivating puppet artistry at Rowan University and in the greater community of Glassboro. He originally didn’t consider creating a club but he knew that he wanted to increase the number of puppeteers that were at Rowan. He didn’t want to be the only puppeteer on campus but that wasn’t the only reason why he created the club.

He wanted to find ways to promote this art form. Jacobs brought one of his puppets to an outside event at the intramural fields and had a few people ask him if there was a puppetry club, to which he responded that there wasn’t one. He met with one of his professors, Tom Fusco, as they were both adapting “The Christmas Carol” into a puppet show that they plan to perform next year at the Christmas tree lighting.

Fusco, who is the technical director of theater and dance at Rowan, approached Jacobs and asked if he was going to be the president of the puppet club. “You know what, Tom, you’re right I am,” Jacobs recalled. “That kind of got the ball rolling and that was just a few weeks ago.”

Jacobs has taken many classes and workshops as well as attended meetings that involved puppetry this previous summer and is doing everything he can to learn more about puppetry.

Recently, Jacobs has found that puppetry blends itself well to the virtual platform and finds that it’s a very effective teaching tool over Zoom. “There have been classes where we’re able to explore different performance aspects and elements in surprising depth using puppets over Zoom in ways that you couldn’t necessarily do as a human being,” Jacobs said.  

Jacobs is from Fredericksburg, VA, and plans to return to his former high school, Chancellor High School, to teach a workshop about puppetry. Jacobs was drawn to Rowan at a Norfolk conference called the Virginia Theater Association. High schools from all over the state of Virginia attend the conference and perform one-acts. Senior students are able to audition in front of 30-40 different colleges.

Professor Michael Dean Morgan and Dr. Elisabeth Hostetter recruited Jacobs to join Rowan’s theater program and said that he was accepted and needed to come in for the faculty audition. “So I drove up to New Jersey and auditioned and I went skipping out of it, it was great,” Jacobs recalled.

As if fate, Jacobs applied to six different schools — but CollegeBoard only sent his test scores to Rowan, which meant that his other applications were incomplete. “It is my belief that I was meant to come to Rowan,” Jacobs said.

Besides trying to promote and explore puppetry, Jacobs created an Instagram account so that he could post people’s work as they grow. He’s also teaching workshops on how to make puppets as well as manipulate and perform with them. He plans on reaching out to professional puppeteers that he’s been networking with over the past few months to try to get them to teach workshops as well.

“Hopefully, people start making things and I can share them and promote them and then more and more people will see ‘oh, I can do this’ and then maybe someone on their own will start trying to make something,” Jacobs said. 

Jacobs’ long-term goal is that the club outlives his stay at Rowan. He would be disappointed to create the club and when or after he graduates the club disappears. “No one wants that to happen to any of the clubs that they create.”

RU Puppet Artists is not yet recognized as an official club but it’s currently petitioning the Student Government Association (SGA) to become recognized and receive funding. Jacobs hopes to put on puppet shows and collaborate and network with not only with club members but with other artists. 

RU Puppet Artists will be holding its first meeting this Saturday, Sept. 26 at 1 pm over Zoom. If you are interested, follow RU Puppet Artists’ Instagram page @ru_puppet_artists.

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